Top Tips for IELTS

The dos and don’ts of academic task one – a teaching resource

This is a simple teaching resource for  helping students with the dos and don’ts of academic task one. The resource is painfully simple:

an advice sheet where the students have to decide what is good and what is bad advice for task 1

a sample bar chart task with 3 answers where the students need to decide which is the “answer”

It probably works best with students who are already familiar with the”rules” of the task – but only in theory. In particular, it can help students who write under-length answers that simply describe information rather than full-length summaries that analyse the information. Two symptoms that may want to make you use it are:

the absence of a summary statement

lack of organisation into paragraphs

It’s the sort of task that can work quite nicely when you have and a very disappointing set of homework.

Download the resource

Sample bar chart answers - poverty (839) Do's and don't's exercise - task 1 (886)

dos and donts

Working it in the class

There are a number of different ways this resource can be used in class. Below I outline two. The “staged approach” is more teacher centred and perhaps better adapted to lower level students who need more guidance and are less familiar with the task. The “collaborative approach” is probably works best as a review exercise for students who are already more familiar with task 1.

Staged approach

1. Understand the basic mistakes

Introduce Sample A – the truly awful one – first. Ask the students in pairs/groups pyramids etc to identify what is wrong – preferably with examples. There can be little or no doubt about its general wrongfulness and students will generally be able to isolate most of the mistakes themselves. Always satisfying.

2. Make a set of guidelines – both dos and don’ts

At this stage I like also to build to the board a preliminary list of dos and not just the don’ts. For me, it doesn’t matter if it is incomplete. Typically, what I’m trying to elicit is the idea that the task is a summary task – identifying the main features and organising them in a report. (If that doesn’t happen, now I introduce the checklist.)

3. Identify what a summary is

The next step is to introduce sample B and C together. The question is simply “which is better and why?”. Sample B is designed to be an approximation of a student answer that completely misses the point of the task. It is not just under-length but fails completely as  a summary – being just a description.

The students will be able to identify the better summary but may struggle to analyse what is wrong with Sample B. If so, this is where the Do’s and Don’ts checklist comes in (unless you have introduced after step 2 or even as a warmer). One or two statements may cause problems, but most should be straightforward. The idea then is to return to sample B and try and pick out precise mistakes – i.e. find examples that match the don’ts of the checklist.

You may also want to ask why C is longer that B.

4. Put it into practice

You can now of course ask the students to look at a piece of their writing and go through that. Theoretically yes, perhaps, but in practice it may be a touch dispiriting. I’d prefer to ask them to start again on a new task. If the idea is new to them, just writing the summary statement may be enough or decide how they would divide their answer into paragraphs.

Collaborative approach

This is much simpler to describe and put into practice. You give them all 3 samples together and ask them in pairs/groups/pyramids to tell you which is best and why. You can also/then ask them to build a list of do’s and don’ts of task one – which can be matched against the master copy.

The benefit/drawback of this approach is that you as teacher have much less control.

Notes on the resources


This is not designed to be exhaustive – hence the blank spaces. I have bolded these words:

it is at least 150 words and it makes sense to aim for around 165/70

the task is not to describe but to report. Get that right and the right language follows

students often get stuck on trends. These only apply in time-based charts really and language often gets misapplied. A pattern is a useful non-time based word.

The sample reports/summaries

You may decide that A is too far out to be worthwhile. I see why. I just find that it works better to include it. seen the obvious mistakes in A helps students see some of the less obvious ones in B.

Get more IELTS teaching resources


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

Home page

Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

Keep up with me on Facebook - all the updates and even more advice there


Or just get all my free lessons by email

Subscribe to DC IELTS by Email

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply